Blue Marble

MAP: Is Your State Ready for Climate Disasters?

| Tue Nov. 12, 2013 4:00 AM PST
climate readiness map
Tim McDonnell/Climate Desk

Whether it's wildfires in the West, drought in the Midwest, or sea level rise on the Eastern seaboard, chances are good your state is in for its own breed of climate-related disasters. Every state is required to file a State Hazard Mitigation Plan with FEMA, which lays out risks for that state and its protocols for handling catastrophe. But as a new analysis from Columbia University's Center for Climate Change Law reveals, many states' plans do not take climate change into account.

Michael Gerrard, the Center's director, said his team combed through all 50 reports to see how accurately and comprehensively climate change was taken into consideration, if at all, and grouped them into four ranked categories:

  1. No discussion of climate change or inaccurate discussion of climate change.
  2. Minimal mention of climate change related issues.
  3. Accurate but limited discussion of climate change and/or brief discussion with acknowledgement of need for future inclusion.
  4. Thorough discussion of climate change impacts on hazards and climate adaptation actions.

While FEMA itself acknowledged this summer that climate change could increase areas at risk from flooding by 45 percent overt the next century, states are not required to discuss climate change in their mitigation plans. The Columbia analysis didn't take into account climate planning outside the scope of the mitigation plans, like state-level greenhouse gas limits or renewable energy incentives. And as my colleague Kate Sheppard reported, some government officials have avoided using climate science terminology even in plans that implicitly address climate risks; states that didn't use terms like "climate change" and "global warming" in their mitigation plans were docked points in Columbia's ranking algorithm.

Gerrard said he wasn't surprised to find more attention paid to climate change in coastal states like Alaska and New York that are closest to the front lines. But he was surprised to find that a plurality of states landed in the least-prepared category, suggesting a need, he said, for better communication of non-coastal risks like drought and heat waves.

"We had hoped that more of the states would have dealt with [climate change] in a more forthright way," he said.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

"Bodies are lined up in the streets"

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 10:44 PM PST
Marines carry an injured Filipino woman on a stretcher for medical attention, assisted by a Philippine Air Force airman at Vilamore Air Base, Manila. Caleb Hoover/U.S. Marines/ZUMA

A difficult recovery effort, hampered by security threats, bottlenecks, and an almost complete lack of communications, is still in its infancy in the Philippines four days after a powerful typhoon plowed through the country.

Super Typhoon Haiyan—also known locally as Yolanda—made landfall several times on Friday, leaving in its wake up to 10,000 casualties (a figure that comes from local officials on the island of Leyte and reported by the Associated Press; the official Philippine government count is much lower). The Joint Typhoon Warning Center data reported sustained winds approached 195 miles per hour three hours before landfall, with gusts of up to 235 miles per hour. Stunningly scary footage captured by a CCTV/Weather Channel team during Haiyan's height shows damaging storm surges ripping buildings apart, "like a tsunami." The storm made landfall again in Vietnam on Monday morning local time.

The Philippines, a group of more than 7,100 islands, is no a stranger to tropical cyclones (this is the 24th just this year). And just as more than 9.5 million people who were in the storm's path survey the damage and locate loved ones, the country is facing another tropical depression, Zoraida​.

"We are always between two typhoons. The farther we are from the previous one, the nearer we are to the next one."

"We are always between two typhoons. The farther we are from the previous one, the nearer we are to the next one," said Amalie Obusan, a Greenpeace climate campaigner in the Philippines, by phone. "Now it seems like a very cruel joke…Every year, every super typhoon is much stronger than the previous year."

Lynette Lim from Save the Children, an aid and development agency focused on the youngest disaster victims, survived the storm in the provincial capital Tacloban, perhaps the hardest hit city. She said the severity of Haiyan took everyone by surprise, scrambling preparation efforts, and setting the recovery back. "Most of the government officials were completely incapacitated to respond to the needs of children and their families." Even now, four days later, Lim said, "We're really starting from scratch."

Lim estimates that two out of every five dead bodies she saw were children. Reached by phone in Manila, where she had returned to help coordinate her organization's response with the benefit of cellphone reception, Lim said she saw "widespread" evidence of malnutrition amongst children already hungry just days after the storm: "It's just quite a heartbreaking sight. Going without food for this many days could be fatal for them." 

One of the most pressing concerns facing the recovery effort, said Lim, is installing proper management of camps for survivors. In Tacloban's main sports arena, known as the Astrodome, which she said was housing an estimated 15,000 people, "the conditions are terrible because people are throwing their trash everywhere, and children are openly defecating because there are no portable toilets."

But relief resources cannot start flowing reliably until basics are met, and that's going to take time: "Clearing the roads, there is no power, there is no water," she said. "It's really tough conditions for aid workers as well as for the survivors."

PHOTOS: Devastation in the Philippines After Haiyan Hits

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 10:05 AM PST

Super Typhoon Haiyan, perhaps the strongest storm ever recorded on Earth, made landfall in the Philippines on Friday. The result was catastrophic, with 10,000 feared dead, according to the Associated Press. The storm made landfall again in Vietnam on Monday morning local time. Here are photos of the preparation for, and aftermath of, Haiyan's arrival.

A child wraps himself in a blanket inside a makeshift house along a fishing village in Bacoor, south of Manila. Ezra Acayan/ZUMA

 
Various government agencies monitor the path of Super Typhoon Haiyan inside the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) office in Quezon City, Philippines. Rouelle Umali/ZUMA
This NASA MODIS Aqua satellite image shows Super Typhoon Haiyan shortly before it smashed into the Philippines with 200 mph winds and 50-foot waves. Lightroom Photos/Nasa/ZUMA
 
Dark clouds from Super Typhoon Haiyan loom over the skyscrapers of metro Manila. Rouelle Umali/ZUMA

 

People reinforce dykes ahead of Super Typhoon Haiyan in Phu Yen province, central Vietnam. Vna/ZUMA

 

Local residents are evacuated to safe places before Super Typhoon Haiyan hit Vietnam in Da Nang city, central Vietnam. Vna/ZUMA

 

Aerial photo taken on November 10 shows the scene after Typhoon Haiyan hit Leyte Province, Philippines. Ryan Lim/ZUMA

 

Aerial photo shows the scene after Typhoon Haiyan hit Leyte Province. Ryan Lim/ZUMA

 

Filipino typhoon survivors from Tacloban City disembark from a C130 military plane in an airport in Cebu City, Philippines. Ritchie Tongo/ZUMA

 

 

Look What's Slowing Down Global Warming

| Sun Nov. 10, 2013 11:00 AM PST

Climate deniers like to point to the so-called global warming "hiatus" as evidence that humans aren't changing the climate. But according a new study, exactly the opposite is true: The recent slowdown in global temperature increases is partially the result of one of the few successful international crackdowns on greenhouse gases.

Back in 1988, more than 40 countries, including the US, signed the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to phase out the use of ozone-depleting gases like chlorofluorocarbons (today the Protocol has nearly 200 signatories). According to the EPA, CFC emissions are down 90 percent since the Protocol, a drop that the agency calls "one of the largest reductions to date in global greenhouse gas emissions." That's a blessing for the ozone layer, but also for the climate. CFCs are a potent heat-trapping gas, and a new analysis published today in Nature Geoscience finds that slashing them has been a major driver of the much-discussed slowdown in global warming.

"The recent decrease in warming, presented by global warming skeptics as proof that humankind cannot affect the climate system, is shown to have a direct human origin."

Without the Protocol, environmental economist Francisco Estrada of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México reports, global temperatures today would be about a tenth of a degree Celsius higher than they are. That's roughly an eighth of the total warming documented since 1880.

Estrada and his co-authors compared global temperature and greenhouse gas emissions records over the last century and found that breaks in the steady upward march of both coincided closely. At times when emissions leveled off or dropped, like during the Great Depression, the trend was mirrored in temperatures; likewise for when emissions climbed.

"With these breaks, what's interesting is that when they're common that's pretty indicative of causation," said Pierre Perron, a Boston University economist who developed the custom-built statistical tests used in the study.

The findings put a new spin on investigation into the cause of the recent "hiatus." Scientists have suggested that several temporary natural phenomena, including the deep ocean sucking up more heat, are responsible for this slowdown. Estrada says his findings show that a recent reduction in heat-trapping CFCs as a result of the Montreal Protocol has also played an important role.

"Paradoxically, the recent decrease in warming, presented by global warming skeptics as proof that humankind cannot affect the climate system, is shown to have a direct human origin," Estrada writes in the study.

Carbon-Sucking Golf Balls and Other Crazy Climate Patents

| Fri Nov. 8, 2013 4:00 AM PST

Forget YouTube as your go-to 3:00 p.m. internet distraction. For me, it's the US patent office website. There is some seriously wild stuff being invented by your fellow citizens, not least in the area of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Here are a few of my favorite climate-related patents issued recently by the office. (I've added a little color to the design sketches):

Golf courses are hardly known for being paragons of environmentally friendly land use. They use a massive amount of water and have been found to be net carbon emitters, mainly due to land-clearing. But—phew!—there could soon be a way to shuck that green guilt and keep on swinging.

These carbon dioxide-absorbing golf balls, invented by the golf team at Nike, are intended to "reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to aid in alleviating global warming," by enabling the "golf ball itself to play a role in the fight against global warming." (You can't make this stuff up). Additionally, the Nike inventors claim this is the first time a golf ball itself has attempted to off-set carbon consumed during its manufacture.

Here's how it works: When you hit the ball, little bits of its surface layer deform and set off a chemical chain reaction that absorbs carbon dioxide as the ball flies through the air. The more times you swing, the greater the surface area exposed to the internal reactions. So, if you're anything like me, and you need to hit the ball an embarrassing number of times, comfort yourself with the knowledge you're doing more to save the world more than your pro golf buddies (except all my balls end up in the water). At the end of the game, according to the patent, you'll be able to see how much carbon you've sequestered using a visual indicator on the side of the ball. 

Golfing sure beats hammering out a broad international agreement to reduce carbon. But sorry to spike your high: The inventors admit the golf ball could "at best be only carbon neutral, and is not capable of reducing the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere." Damn. Really? (After several attempts to organize an interview with the Portland-based inventor Chia-Chyi Cheng, Nike told me the company doesn't talk to the media about their numerous inventions or patents).

Verdict: Cool science! But don't expect President Obama to start arguing his golf days are saving the planet.

 

We learned last month that average summer temperatures in parts of the Arctic during the past 100 years are hotter than they have been for possibly as long as 120,000 years. And the Arctic recently registered the sixth lowest summer sea ice minimum on record.

Why don’t we just replace all that melting ice?

That's the idea behind this recently published patent for artificial ice. According to the filing, an "ice" substrate would be dropped onto the surface of an ocean or a lake and left there to reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere using a 3-corner retro reflector surface (the same technology used by street signs). Meanwhile, nutrients sown on the underside would encourage algae to grow for biofuel production. Algae is a proven energy source. In February 2012, President Obama announced the Department of Energy would allocate $14 million in new funding to develop transportation fuels from algae.

"It seemed like a two-fer to me," says inventor and engineer Phillip Langhorst from St. Louis, Missouri. "In order to solve global warming we're going to have to do something on an insanely huge scale. And this is the only thing I've seen that's big enough." 

A few weeks after putting the ice on the water, a ship would come along, scrape the algae off and reapply the necessary nutrients.

"I need help, obviously, to see if this is a viable scheme," he says, although he admits most companies he approaches balk at the idea. But he argues that facing the realities and costs of big geo-engineering projects like this is becoming increasingly necessary, in lieu of putting a price on carbon: "Pick your poison, you know," he says. "My goal is not so much to patent this and make a billion dollars off of it; it's to solve the global warming issue so we all don't have to move to Saskatchewan​."

Verdict: Please, can't we stop the real ice from melting?

 

Imagine this scenario in the not-too-distant future: Your car has iced over in one of the many more extreme storms of a climate-changed world. It takes too long—and too much gas—to de-ice the car. Moreover, the engines in energy-efficient and electric cars mean there is less "waste heat" in the system that's available for the purpose of traditional defrosting techniques.

A new defrosting system may just become the must-have for winter drivers, according to this patent for a "windshield washer fluid heater and system," which attempts to defrost within seconds, not minutes. It may even, according to the language of the patent, reduce "energy dependence on foreign oil." That actually isn't too lofty a claim when you look at the auto industry roaring back to life. Since 2009, car production has nearly doubled; in July, US car and light-truck sales ran at an annualized pace of 15.8 million, up more than a million from the previous year. Any fuel savings count.

The invention passes engine heat that already exists through a new heat exchanger. Upon flicking the washer/wiper switch, washer fluid heats in a special new heater in a matter of seconds, and finally sprays out nozzles integrated into the wiper blades of the car, delivering a "continuous on-demand heated fluid deicing and cleaning action to the windshield and wiper blades." 

"This is so much more effective in clearing the windshield, because a traditional system needs to warm up 30-40 pounds of windshield glass before it can get to the outside ice," which requires a lot of energy, says Jere Lansinger, a 74-year-old retired automotive engineer and inventor. A 40-year veteran of the industry in Detroit, Lansinger used to test defrosting systems to ensure they met the federal standard for safe driving: around 30 minutes for a clear windshield. "And 30 minutes is a terribly long time when you want to get moving in the morning." So for the last 20 years he's been tinkering on this invention in his garage. Now the defrost time is under a minute, he says.

Lansinger has commercial interest already. The invention has been bought by TSM Corporation, Michigan, and is being developed as a product called QuikTherm, which the company says is currently being tested at several North American automotive parts manufacturers. And that's enormously gratifying for Lansinger. "Frankly it makes me feel better than any big royalties I'll get."

Verdict: ​A neat fuel-efficiency measure I've never thought about. And nothing's worse than de-icing your car.

 

This might be my favorite for its simplicity: A portable power station that can be off-loaded from a trailer, unfolded, put up anywhere there's sun or wind, and switched on. In the picture here, it's being used to charge a car. But it can power anything it likes.

"I was tickled to death," says Lynn Miller, the inventor from Crossville, Tennessee, about the day he was granted the patent, which he's been working on for over three years. He's now spent over $20,000 on the idea and is looking forward to getting a prototype up and running in the new year.

For Miller, it's all about simplicity and reducing costs for the consumer. "We'd bring it out in the morning, and in the afternoon it's working. It's a plug-and play-system," he says. He also likes the idea that having one of these in the company parking lot, or by the side of the road, gives ultimate green bragging rights: "It's very visible, it reminds people day-in, day-out that you're environmental."

Miller's plan is to also set up the portable power stations at schools and colleges to demonstrate the benefits of renewable energy. "It's not just book knowledge, this can be turned into a classroom."

Verdict: I want one.

Thousands Feared Dead After Super Typhoon Haiyan Devastates Philippines

| Thu Nov. 7, 2013 5:54 PM PST
Devestation in Tacloban, Philippines, caused by Typhoon Haiyan.

Update (11/10/13): Thousands are feared dead after Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines Friday. Government officials are estimating that 10,000 people died in Leyte Province, in the eastern part of the country, according to the Associated Press.

The 13-foot storm surge left the coastal city of Tacloban "in ruins," according to the New York Times. "There is no power, no water, nothing," Voltaire Gazmin, the country's defense secretary, reportedly said of the situation in Tacloban. "People are desperate. They're looting."

Haiyan made landfall once again Monday morning local time, hitting northern Vietnam with 75 mile-per-hour winds.

Super Typhoon Haiyan
Super Typhoon Haiyan as it made landfall in the Philippines.  NOAA

By at least one measurement, it appears that Super Typhoon Haiyan, which just slammed into the Philippine island of Samar, may be the strongest storm reliably recorded on Earth. Additional measurements and analysis will surely be necessary to confirm this, but for now, here's what we know:

The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center, which tracks typhoons and Super Typhoons—the most powerful storms on the planet—estimated Haiyan's maximum one-minute sustained winds at 170 knots, which translates into about 195 miles per hour. 

According to meteorologist Jeff Masters, a number of Pacific storms prior to 1969 were measured with wind speeds equal to or above 170 knots, but these estimates are now considered unreliable. Since 1969, the three strongest storms on record by wind speed all had winds of 165 knots, or 190 miles per hour: 1979's Super Typhoon Tip, 1969's Atlantic Hurricane Camille, and 1980's Atlantic Hurricane Allen. Haiyan just passed all three by this metric, though Masters notes that there is less confidence in Haiyan's true intensity, since Tip, Camille, and Allen were all investigated by hurricane hunter aircraft. Haiyan's intensity has only been estimated based on satellite images (you can read more about how these satellite measurements are done, and why Haiyan presented such a stunning satellite image, in this great New Republic article by Nate Cohn).

There are some additional caveats here: Wind speeds are only one way of determining a storm's intensity. Another is measuring its minimum central pressure, and here Tip still reigns supreme, with a minimum central pressure of 870 millibars.

Most disturbing of all is another record: At landfall, Haiyan was more intense than any other landfalling storm.

Is it possible that Haiyan was a "Category 6" hurricane? Officially, the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale defines the category 5 range (the highest category) as beginning at 137 knots. But once you're 33 knots above that, as Haiyan was, perhaps the scale has been superseded. After all, the entire Category 2 range only spans 12 knots.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Bill de Blasio's Biggest Challenge: Climate Change

| Wed Nov. 6, 2013 1:43 PM PST

This story first appeared on the Grist website and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Bill de Blasio, New York City's new mayor-elect, didn't spend much time during the campaign talking about climate change, but he'll likely spend a lot of his time at City Hall dealing with it.

New York finds itself these days with an unusual conundrum: Its biggest problems are largely the byproduct of its biggest successes. Just 20 years ago, New York was, like American cities generally, blighted by rampant crime and less populated than at its mid-century heyday.

Today, New York City's central challenge is one that virtually any other city would love to have: Too many rich people want to live there. But Wall Street bankers, trust funders, and wealthy foreigners looking for a pied-à-terre have driven up the price of housing to levels that threaten to eject the creative classes that have powered New York's renaissance. The high cost of housing is also the main reason New York's homeless population is at an all-time high.

The massive gap between rich and poor, the loss of diversity in the most centrally located neighborhoods, and the lack of affordable housing were the problems identified by de Blasio in his "tale of two cities" campaign spiel. De Blasio won in a landslide Tuesday on a promise to increase the supply of affordable housing, raise taxes on the very wealthy, and expand educational opportunities for those left behind by New York's current boom. Meanwhile, crime has been so successfully tamed—the murder rate is one-fifth of its 1991 peak—that de Blasio has proposed to reduce the use of aggressive policing tactics such as stop-and-frisk.

But other serious challenges loom in New York's future, even though they were hardly mentioned in this year's mayoral campaign. Indeed, they are arguably already here: extreme weather events caused by climate change, and felt especially hard in coastal areas developed during the city's boom years.

New York is built on a collection of islands, with 520 miles of coastline and entire neighborhoods constructed on landfill. One year ago, Hurricane Sandy flooded New York's low-lying neighborhoods, from Lower Manhattan to the Rockaways in southeastern Queens, leaving elderly, impoverished New Yorkers stranded in high-rise housing projects without power for weeks. Some families are still displaced, living seven to a hotel room.

Global warming leads to melting polar ice caps, which lead to higher sea levels. Global warming is also raising surface water temperatures, leading to larger, more frequent storms. The former could permanently submerge miles of New York's currently inhabited land, while the latter threatens to periodically topple buildings, destroy power stations, and knock trees onto cars.

New York Harbor is where the Hudson River meets the Atlantic Ocean, and what we call the East and lower Hudson Rivers are actually tidal estuaries. Much of New York's recent economic and real estate development has been in the very same waterfront areas that are most at risk from climate change. Tribeca, DUMBO, and Red Hook have seen former waterfront warehouses filled first with artists and then well-heeled professionals. A year ago, they saw neck-high water flowing through their streets.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, aware of the urgent need for housing, has encouraged the development of New York's waterfront neighborhoods. After Sandy, the Bloomberg administration created the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, which produced a massive report, released in June. The report found that the next hurricane could be even worse: "With greater winds and more rain, Sandy could have had an even more serious impact on the areas of Staten Island, Southern Brooklyn, and South Queens that experienced the most devastation during the storm. And while Sandy brought the full force of its impact at high tide for these southernmost areas of the city, it hit the area around western Long Island Sound almost exactly at low tide. As a consequence, parts of the Bronx, Northern Queens, and East Harlem were not as affected as they could have been."

But Sandy was plenty bad and its effects will last for years to come. On Monday, The New York Times reported that the Metropolitan Transit Authority will be forced to continue cutting back service and spending billions of dollars for years to come to deal with the damage Sandy wrought. While the MTA got the subways running again within days, it has recently had to shut down stretches of the R and G lines to repair tunnels that were flooded. There will be an estimated $3 billion worth of repair work for each of the next two years, about double what would otherwise have been needed.

New York cannot afford to be unprepared for climate change. As Bloomberg's report lays out, the city must invest in a wide array of both hard and soft anti-flooding infrastructure improvements. Buildings must be elevated, shorelines must be regraded, beachfront boardwalks must be rebuilt with gradual rises in elevation. Buildings must move their power supplies upward, while neighborhoods must move their power lines downward, wrapping them in water-resistant materials. Sidewalks will have to be made permeable, to wick floodwater back out to sea. Meanwhile, the city must continue its efforts to be a global leader in reducing its own carbon footprint.

Though he vaguely promised to adhere to Bloomberg's climate change agenda, de Blasio didn't make climate preparedness an issue in his campaign. But it will likely be the central challenge of his mayoralty, and his successor's as well.

De Blasio said in his victory address that "the city has chosen a progressive path" in electing him. If he really wants to help all New Yorkers thrive, he'll get as serious about climate change as he is about economic inequality. Reducing the city's greenhouse gas emissions and preparing its neighborhoods for storms and rising seas is a moral obligation for a self-described progressive, no less so than housing the city's homeless, enhancing its social mobility, or welcoming its undocumented immigrants. And climate adaptation is a pragmatic imperative too. It will be expensive, but as Sandy demonstrated, failure to invest on the front end will cost even more later on.

Why Dengue and Yellow Fever Could Be Coming to a City Near You

| Mon Nov. 4, 2013 4:00 AM PST

Estimated Population at Risk for Dengue Fever in 1990 (A) and 2085 (B) Based on Climate Data from 1961 to 1990

This past summer, Aedes aegypti—the invasive African mosquito best known for carrying the potentially deadly diseases dengue and yellow fever—made its unexpected debut in California, squirming up from Madera to Clovis to Fresno and the Bay Area.

For a blood-sucking nightmare, Aedes aegypti is surprisingly attractive: Its dark skin and bright white polka-dots make it hard to miss. Unfortunately, it is also notoriously difficult to control. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Aedes aegypti can lay its eggs in less than a teaspoon of liquid and survive without water for months.

While Aedes aegypti has long resided in Texas and the southeastern United States, this is the first time it's reached California. News outlets have covered the story extensively, but few have mentioned climate change's role in the mosquito's spread. The CDC says it's "likely that Ae. aegypti is continually responding or adapting to environmental change." In a 2012 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed out that "temperatures, precipitation and humidity have a strong influence on the reproduction, survival and biting rates" of Aedes aegypti.

Climate change studies predict that dengue—which infects as many as 100 million people a year—will expose an additional 2 billion by 2080. In 2009, the mosquito kicked off a Florida outbreak of dengue in a state that hadn't seen the disease in more than 70 years, and Thailand is currently undergoing its worst dengue epidemic in more than 20 years.

Dengue's initial symptoms often resemble the flu, but advanced infections—which cause lung and heart problems, severe abdominal pain, and bleeding from the nose and mouth—kill 15,000 people in 100 countries annually.

Yellow fever is no picnic, either: The disease was one of the world's most feared before the development of a vaccine in 1936. Its name comes from the illness' trademark jaundice, and it also causes severe stomach bleeding (often resulting in black vomit). It kills 15 percent of those infected and closer to 50 percent when left untreated.

In the past, yellow fever in the United States made its way as far north as New York City. In 1793, an outbreak even wiped out 10 percent of Philadelphia. Luckily, citizens figured out that they could stop its spread by overturning containers of standing water where mosquitoes bred, and yellow fever was largely eradicated in the United States. In the last 40 years, there have been only nine cases of yellow fever in the United States, all of which were contracted abroad. But in Africa and Central and South America, it's a much bigger problem: Roughly 200,000 new cases of yellow fever occur every year. Over the last 20 years, outbreaks have occurred in more countries with more frequency, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2010, Uganda had its first outbreak in more than 40 years. WHO reports the increasing number of cases is likely linked to climate change.

There is no vaccine for dengue, and American citizens typically do not get vaccinated against yellow fever unless they travel to a region where it's endemic. So far, there have been no cases of dengue or yellow fever connected to California's new Aedes aegypti, and none of the insects have tested positive for the diseases. But public health officials remain vigilant. "We were shocked," one insect control official in Madera, California, told the Los Angeles Times. "We never expected this mosquito in California."

Congress Backtracks on Law Aimed to Reduce Flood Risks

| Fri Nov. 1, 2013 5:41 PM PDT

This story first appeared on the Grist website and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Demolishing coastal habitats and replacing them with buildings is just asking for trouble. Mangroves, sand dunes, and other coastal ecosystems can buffer rising tides and storm surges. Homes, driveways, and roads, on the other hand " well, they just flood.

Yet since the late 1960s, the federal government has been promoting the construction of homes in flood-vulnerable coastal areas through the National Flood Insurance Program. Under the NFIP, taxpayers subsidize the costs of insuring homes in flood-prone neighborhoods. The program has led to the demolition of coastal habitats and the construction of flood-vulnerable homes in coastal areas around the country.

Fortunately, lawmakers came to understand the folly of the nation's ways. Last year, by a 412 to 18 margin, Congress did something unusual: It passed a bill that went on to become law. The bill started raising flood insurance rates to something resembling market prices.

Unfortunately, now Congress wants to backtrack. Seems members didn't comprehend the scale of the problem they were trying to fix. The issue of unsuitable homes built on flood plains is so entrenched that the new law led to severe economic impacts for homeowners who were forced to foot greater shares of the insurance bills needed to protect their properties.

"All the houses, all the stores, all the businesses" everything has to be raised six, eight, ten feet high," Mike O'Reilly, a resident of New York's Broad Channel Island, told CBS News during a protest last month that took place on land that was inundated after Superstorm Sandy struck the region. "If you don't comply with this impossible task, the insurance premiums are going to up $20,000-$30,000 a year."

Reacting to widespread anger, Congress is now scrambling to undo the program changes that it once so heartily supported.

Here is Salon's summary of the 2012 legislation:

The Biggert-Waters…reform legislation forced the creation of new FEMA maps to determine who needed flood insurance. It also allowed higher annual premium increases "to 20 percent from 10 percent" so premiums could gradually come more in line with actuarial realities. And for high-risk homes built before flood maps were adopted, which enjoyed generous subsidies, flood insurance rates would increase 25 percent a year, until they reached a level commensurate with the actual risk. If the homes changed hands, they would immediately move to the risk-adjusted rates. Over time, subsidies for 1.1 million policyholders, 20 percent of the program, would be phased out.

And here is its summary of Congress's new effort to undo its own legislation:

[A] deal…would delay the changes to the program by four years. It would force FEMA to conduct an "affordability study" to ensure that homeowners wouldn't pay undue costs, and would allow reimbursement to policyholders who successfully appeal a change to flood maps that increase their rates.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the federal government is spending billions of dollars buying up coastal homes in New Jersey. Those homes will be replaced with flood- and storm-buffering sand dunes like those that used to line the shore. As Congress looks for a fair way to fix 45 years of irresponsible home building promoted by the NFIP, more neighborhood-eliminating projects like these might need to be considered.

Why This Red-State Republican Mayor Backs Obama on Climate Change

| Fri Nov. 1, 2013 2:04 PM PDT
Federal agencies are required to clear the way for more climate change adaptations, like this house being raised out of the floodplain in Virginia.

Just a few days after the Treasury Department announced it would no longer back funding for most overseas coal-fired power plants, today President Obama issued a new executive order that lays the groundwork for how the US will prepare for climate change within its borders. The order is the latest in a series of policies stemming from the president's Climate Action Plan; earlier this year, for example, the administration issued new greenhouse gas emission limits for power plants and cars. But rather than addressing carbon pollution, per se, today's plan focuses on how cities and states can prepare for the climate impacts already on the way.

"We need to work on bipartisan solutions, and put politics aside," said Mayor James Brainard of Carmel, Indiana, a Republican who is one of the local officials taking part in a new advisory task force created by today's order. "The climate is changing, and we need to be prepared for it."

So what does the order call for? Here's what you need to know:

Prioritize climate-ready projects: In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, many civic planning experts called for future infrastructure plans—for bridges, roads, housing development, and the like—to emphasize climate resilience (a popular buzzword among climate wonks that means being able to quickly bounce back from disasters).

Today's order requires federal agencies to support and incentivize "smarter, more climate-resilient investments" through grants, guidance, and other forms of assistance. These could include moving roads away from crumbling coasts or requiring seaside homes to be built higher above the floodplain. The order also directs agencies to "identify and seek to remove or reform barriers that discourage" resilient investments—for example, policies that currently encourage cities to apply weak rebuilding standards after natural disasters.

"What we're seeing here is a promise that resources that might have been dedicated just to rebuilding, there would now be a mandate to rebuild in a more resilient fashion," said Rachel Cleetus, a climate economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The order gives a nod to natural systems, too: Federal agencies are required to look for ways to protect places like watersheds, marshes (which are themselves an important protective barrier from sea level rise), and forests from climate impacts and are directed deliver specific recommendations to the White House within nine months.